As our previous columns observed, more and more voices are being heard regarding the liturgical decadence and malaise afflicting the Church in North America. These voices are heard among the clergy, average lay people, journalists, musicians, architects, art historians, and assorted intellectuals. Such books as Anne Roche Muggeridge's The Gates of Hell, and The Desolate City; James Hitchcock's now classic The Recovery of the Sacred; Thomas Day's Why Catholics Can't Sing, and Where have you gone, Michelangelo?; Klaus Gamber's The Reform of the Roman Liturgy as well as the many articles written by various critics (who love the Mass) that have reflected a large measure of dissatisfaction (to put it mildly) with the state of the Catholic liturgy.
Over many years, such notable churchmen as Cardinals Danielou, Oddi, Stickler, and Ratzinger (not to mention the Pope himself) have deplored the liturgical excesses which have alienated millions in the West from the practice of the Catholic Faith. Witness again the shocking statistics concerning Mass attendance in Western nations and the loss of faith reflecting a sizable apostasy from the Catholic Church not seen since the days of the Protestant Revolution. It constitutes sheer spiritual blindness not to acknowledge the depth and scope of the Crisis of Faith to which our contemporary liturgical decadence has powerfully contributed.
Yet another effect of the continuing '"Liturgical Revolution" cherished by radical liturgists in North America is that many Catholics no longer even care to come to grips with the liturgical and theological deformations marring Catholic life in their parishes. They have accommodated themselves to the unhappy scenes at Mass they witness with sullen resignation or tepid acceptance.
Other more secularized Catholics have welcomed with glee the radical shift in liturgical worship resulting from an American inculturation that has changed the focus of parish liturgy from the glorification of God and the salvation of souls to smug self-glorification by the local community and a social activism intent upon building up the 'Kingdom of Man'. As Dr. Peter Kreeft of Boston College has noted:
"Our avant-garde liturgists have tried to "exalt people, feeling, and community" in such manner that the result has been "a triumph of elitism masquerading as populism". In the name of populism, our liturgical elite has taken over. 'Liturgical experts' have invented a liturgy that only a professional liturgist could ever love, and they've forced it on the common folk in the name of populism. Satan saw that the 'American Church' lacked persecutors so he gave her liturgists."
In all too many parishes, especially in the more trendy dioceses, the traditional sober and sublime Roman Liturgy is no longer recognizable. Eastern Orthodox observer Frankie Schaeffer cannot help noticing "the local, desacralized, modern Roman Catholic parish" and the "sacramental and liturgical chaos swirling about its altars."
Much of the latter has assuredly resulted from the serious misrepresentations of Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy by the influential Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions and the fatal publication in 1978 of "Environment and Art in Catholic Worship" by the U.S. Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy. Lacking any juridical authority, "Environment and Art in Catholic Worship" has played a critical role in stimulating parish liturgy committees to proceed with the destruction of the sacred in art, music, and worship – all in the name, of course, of fostering "community." The tragic polarization evident in countless parishes resulting from conflicts regarding liturgical abuses and the questionable renovation of churches has been its sorry legacy.
Fortunately, the Spring and November 1995 meetings of the U.S. Bishops reflect a growing concern by a number of Bishops regarding liturgical issues, especially the accuracy of translations of texts of the Roman Missal by ICEL and the use of "inclusive language" in the Lectionary tending to undermine the doctrinal expression of the Catholic Faith. It remains scandalous that questionable translations of Scripture are allowed to circulate among the faithful and that the latter remain deprived of an accurate, beautiful, solemn, and majestic translation of the Order of Mass, and this 30 years after Vatican II!
Recent articles on the Liturgy and on Sacred Music by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, calling for an end to the "banalization of the liturgy" and for a "Reform of the Reform" to revive the splendor of the Roman Liturgy in our parishes (along the lines of what Vatican II really intended), are hopeful signs, as are the formation of more groups interested in recovering the authentic Catholic ethos of liturgical celebration.
Especially welcome are the pastoral letters of Bishops seeking to restore reverence for the Holy Eucharist and to curb abuses. Nor to be ignored are the many years of effort by Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) to attract attention to the liturgical and theological deformations resulting from 30 years of a "Flight from Catholic Doctrine." CUF members can only agree with these words of Msgr. M. Francis Mannion, rector of Salt Lake City's Cathedral:
"Liturgy is too important to be left to the liturgists... Catholics must advance a liturgy that is dignified, reverent, solemn, serious and weighty... We must have concern for the cultural corruption of the liturgy, the inroads made by an entertainment ethos... The Mass has a transcendent and God-centered character and is not merely a pragmatic community meeting."
We will leave the last word regarding any attempts to "inculturate" the Roman Liturgy by endless arbitrary experimentations and mindless innovations to Pope John Paul II. In 1979 the Chief Pastor addressed the Bishops of the U.S. as follows:
"As chosen leaders in a community of praise and prayer, it is our special joy to offer the Eucharist and to give our people a sense of their vocation as an Easter people, with the 'Alleluia' as their song. And let us always recall that the validity of all liturgical development and the effectiveness of every liturgical sign presupposes the great principle that the Catholic Liturgy is theo-centric and that it is above all 'the worship of Divine Majesty' in union with Jesus Christ.
Our people have a supernatural sense whereby they look for reverence in all liturgy, especially in what touches the Mystery of the Eucharist. With deep faith our people understand that the Eucharist in the Mass and outside the Mass is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and therefore deserves the worship that is given to the living God as to Him alone."
May every devout Catholic pray and work for the genuine implementation of Vatican II's "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy" so that in truth all men will see that:
"in the earthly liturgy we take part in a fore-taste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God."
|N.B. The series of articles on "The Degradation of Catholic Liturgy" were written before the new and present translation of the Roman Missal, which has happily replaced the banalities of the previous ICEL version.|